The Horrors are a music geek's dream come true.
Their earliest singles three years ago paid tribute to Joe Meek, The Cramps and Screaming Lord Sutch, and the band has evolved to balance musical elements borrowed from My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Killing Joke, and Echo and the Bunnymen, not to mention Neu! and Brian Eno.
On their latest American tour, The Horrors are headed to Tucson to play Monday, April 20, at Club Congress. They'll play on a bill that will also feature headliner The Kills and opening act Magic Wands.
The five young Londoners in The Horrors say they play music largely because of their mutual love for many of the same things adored by rabid music fans like you and me. Since they were young, each of the guys in The Horrors has loved garage, psychedelic, punk and post-punk rock; collecting vinyl LPs and 45s; digging up obscure recordings in out-of-the-way shops; and sharing their passion for music with the occasional DJ gig.
"We all are big record collectors," says bassist-keyboardist Spider Webb (whose mother named him Rhys) a few days before leaving England for the United States. "When you are passionate about music, and you collect vinyl and obscure singles and stuff, you're always into learning what other people are listening to, and it sort of draws you together to want to share it."
Spurred on by their shared interests, The Horrors were formed in 2005 by three boys from Southend in Essex (Webb being one of them) and a couple of others who grew up in London. None of them, save guitarist Joshua Third, had much experience playing in bands.
"I had a little synthesizer and a drum machine and would make my own recordings in my bedroom," Webb says. "But when we got together as the band, is when the world of making music really started opening up for me and most of the others."
Webb and Third are joined in The Horrors by vocalist Faris Badwan, keyboardist/bassist Tom Furse and drummer Coffin Joe.
In the beginning, the band had few ambitions and no plan of action, Webb says.
"We wanted to play music and play the kind of music that we loved when we were growing up. I guess our first real goal was possibly to record one 7-inch single, to see our names on it, and know that we did it.
"Maybe it wasn't really an aim, per se, but ... we really couldn't relate to the contemporary music scene and didn't feel any similarities to any of the groups that were playing or were even spoken about at the time. We were more interested in all of the last 60 years of music. That was the reason we formed, along with the idea of initially putting out 7-inches."
Things took off unexpectedly, he says. The Horrors quickly became known around London for their proto-goth look, dark and hypnotic sound, and frenzied live shows. In 2006, the band's debut single, "Sheena Is a Parasite," featured a B-side cover of Sutch's "Jack the Ripper."
Soon, they went into the studio to record what would become their first album, Strange House, which was released in 2007.
"The most important thing with the first record was the adrenaline and movement, and playing very fast and ferocious," Webb says. "It kind of documented our sound and attitude at the time. It was all about the idea of punk—playing the basics and playing our instruments speedily and furiously, and all of that changed between records."
The Horrors' second album, Primary Colours, will be released by XL Recordings on May 5. It's an amazing leap in quality beyond the proto-garage vibe of Strange House, combining lush sonic textures, some ambient noise, explosive psychedelia and dark meanderings.
"We think of this record as a British psychedelic record," says Webb. "Our first record was more spontaneously a punk record with primitive rhythms from that garage sound and the freak-beat sound. This album's more experimental, where the first one was us just trying to become the band we wanted to be. This one, I think, shows us fucking things up a bit. Two years of playing solidly and touring has helped us grow up a bit and be able to experiment, I think.
"We went from doing covers, or songs that looked toward our early musical influences, to actually sitting down and writing the songs to reflect a mood and a vibe. We wrote in the summer and spent five months in the studio, and then on the weekend, we would let loose and go to all these parties, with a lot of mind-altering experiences, should I say, and that really influenced the sound we were creating, I think."
Since one of The Horrors' collective passions is the veneration of the vinyl recording, they insist that all of their singles and albums are released in that format, Webb says.
"Everything we release is on vinyl. When we think of the artwork on our albums, which we like to have active involvement in, we always are thinking of the 12-inch and 7-inch formats. And CDs barely come into our minds. MP3s don't at all. Everyone in the band thinks in terms of the old formats."
Webb recalls a recent interview in which another journalist asked the band about the significance of MP3s and downloaded music.
"We came to the conclusion that if all the computers crashed, and all those libraries of songs were lost, we could just stroll into our bedrooms and living rooms and still find all our music, all the artwork and the history that goes along with it."